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Archaeologist Dana Goodburn-Brown set to conserve Roman scroll

Dana Goodburn-Brown, of AMTec Co-Operative Ltd, and the lead conservator.
Dana Goodburn-Brown, of AMTec Co-Operative Ltd, and the lead conservator.

by Hayley Robinson

Work to conserve a Roman scroll believed to be more than 1,700 years old isto be carried out in Sittingbourne.

Archaeologist and conservator Dana Goodburn-Brown will pick up the lead tablet from Oxford University towards the end of next month.

She will then bring it back to her CSI (Conservation Science Investigations) lab at The Forum shopping centre, giving visitors and shoppers the chance to watch her working on the artefact in October.

The scroll was unearthed by members of the Maidstone Area Archaeological Group in a field in East Farleigh, in 2009.

Measuring just 60mm by 100mm and only one millimetre thick, it is believed to be a curse tablet.

Used by the Romans to cast spells on people accused of theft or other misdeeds, they were rolled up to conceal their inscriptions then hidden in places considered to be close to the underworld, such as graves, springs or wells.

The Roman curse scroll as it was found.Picture: Paul Tritton
The Roman curse scroll as it was found.Picture: Paul Tritton

The Roman curse scroll as it was found.Picture: Paul Tritton

Since its discovery, Dana has sought ways of reading its inscription without unrolling it due to its fragility.

She said: "We took it to the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland for neutron-computed tomography imaging but the scroll is very thin and the resolution of the tomography was not good enough to see the writing."

The letter R on the Roman curse scroll as seen through a scanning electronic microscope. Picture: Paul Tritton
The letter R on the Roman curse scroll as seen through a scanning electronic microscope. Picture: Paul Tritton

The letter R on the Roman curse scroll as seen through a scanning electronic microscope. Picture: Paul Tritton

Several months ago the decision was finally made to unroll it.

It was then sent to Dr Roger Tomlin, lecturer in Late Roman History at Wolfson College, Oxford, and an authority on Roman inscriptions, who spent four days examining it.

He found, in capital letters, the Latin names SACRATUS, CONSTITUT[US], CONSTAN[...] and MEMORIA[NUS], the Celtic names [ATR]ECTUS and ATIDENUS, and eight others which are incomplete.

As the Romans were the first inhabitants of Kent who could read and write the names are likely to be the earliest written record of inhabitants in the village.

Maidstone Area Archaeological Group's­s site at East Farleigh
Maidstone Area Archaeological Group's­s site at East Farleigh

Maidstone Area Archaeological Group's­s site at East Farleigh
Picture: Paul Tritton

Dana now plans to carry out further work to reveal more of the scroll’s letters.

She said: "It’s corroded in some places so I will be testing methods to reveal more of the letters and our new Scanning Electron Microscope, which allows us to magnify and take pictures of the letters, will hopefully be installed at CSI around the same time. So we should be able to get some more of the names.

"I’ll have it until I’m finished with it then it will go back to Dr Tomlin and eventually back to the archaeological group."


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